In this Essay,
I will be discussing the political, economic and social developments in 20th
century Spain, which led to the Civil War, and to what extent it could have had
a different ending.

 

Politically,
Spain had been through a lot of changes in the 20th century. Primo de Rivera’s
dictatorship came about at the end of the monarchy, which then led to the
second republic. The Moroccan war in 1921 seemed to highlight Spain’s corruption
and lack of leadership, which led to a coup d’état. There was a need to reshape
Spain, the king called primo de Rivera to replace the prime minister and form a
new government. From 1923 to 1930, primo de River was in power. He became an
authoritarian dictator; however, a little bit of stability emerged as jobs were
being created in industrial production. Rivera dissolved parliament, banished
political parties, and established censorship.

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For a long
time, the Spanish empire bought a lot of money into its economy due to the
resources it brought in, however in 1898 it saw the loss of its last colony,
Cuba, meaning that the Spanish economy would soon start going downhill. One could
see the social effects of a poor economy, however despite Rivera’s
dictatorship, many appreciated his way of being open to all demands of the
population. When he came into power after the coup of 1923, public work schemes
emerged because of one of his new policies. Some examples would be new railways
and roads within transport infrastructures, as well as irrigation systems put
into place. One would see this as an essential boost for the economy, however
international banks would have to lend out huge loans, which would eventually
spell out disaster.

 

The wall
street crash in 1929 would drag many countries into a vast depression, Spain
being one of them. Banks had withdrawn their loans, so the economic situation
in Spain became very desperate. Unemployment rates were sky high and industrial
production was extremely low.

The Great
depression in the 1930’s caused an economic meltdown. Europe was in crisis. The
Royal family was assassinated in Russia, and monarchies grew fearful in Europe,
meaning they would become respectful to figures such as Franco and Hitler. This
depression would eventually force the king to abdicate on April 1931, and this
is when Spain became a republic.

 

The Second
republic emerged in 1931. After years of frustration; because of social unrest
due to empty promises from the last regime, this was a radical ambitious
program. It was firstly associated with the left, and progressively developed stronger
nationalist identities.  The Second Republic inherited an underdeveloped
and indebted country. Society was characterised by extreme inequality. In terms
of social development, poverty and inequality was a huge factor that would lead
to one of the reasons the civil war broke out.

There was an
increase in socialism, communism and anarchism due to the pull factors for
those experiencing the severe poverty

 

The new
regime was seen as a victory, a new start. Spanish anarchists, socialists and
communists wanted to remove the influence of the Catholic Church from Spanish
society.

The
Constitution also separated the Church and State, and had to face a tense
social environment. Major reforms were set into place under the republic, with
a focus to restructure all of Spain. The introduction of the eight hour day was
established, along with reducing the voting age from 25 to 23, and also a
reduction of officer in the armed forces. Separation of church and state meant
that severe changes occurred against the church for example in regard to
religious education.

 

Moreover,
the cleavages in Spain in 1931 such as centre-periphery, state-church, land-industry,
and owner-worker would become evident in the 1933 elections. Class conflict
between a violent industrial & agricultural elite would be a paramount
underlying cause for the Spanish civil war. In effect, one could say it was a
revolutionary class war.

 

An attempt
to overthrow the government led by Manuel Azaña in 1932 showed to be a failure,
as the army at the moment, was faithful to the government. Essentially, they
did win elections justly, so therefore was seen as genuine. Yet, a right-wing political
party named ‘CEDA’ emerged, who’s intentions were to protect authority of the
Church as well as the landlords.

 

The role of
church started to reduce after the liberal reforms. Republicans had more
radical ideas on how to reduce the power of the church, such as in educations.
There was a military reform, yet the right saw the republic as too ‘radical’;
they were bringing too much change. The military uprising weakened the state
and undermined its ability and that of the republican government to maintain
order. “The coup d’état was transformed into the unprecedented open violence
employed by the groups that supported and those that opposed it.” (Casanova,
2010, p. 149).

 

In the 1933
elections the right winged CEDA won. The cleavages became evident with its
slogan “Religion, Fatherland, Family, Order, Work and Property.”

 

The popular
front was formed by the parties on the left whom decided to come together. A number
of violent riots and strikes were planned, for example in 1934 there was a
general strike in Asturias, however the coal miners on strike were put down by
the army, which at the time was led by Franco. It appeared that the country was
headed into a mess. A general election was held in February 1936 to save the
situation from getting worse. The popular front won, where Azaña became prime
minister again. It was very close, and changes were going to be more dramatic.
As the Popular front included communists, they wanted to take over because
everybody else did nothing. They felt stronger and in a position to get
military help from Stalin. When communists come into the image and start
seizing private property, people start to panic, Business, trade, and
transportation start to break down.

 

It was
evident that the government was struggling with corruption and its ability to
act efficiently. A huge confrontation was on the horizon for Spain because of
the left and the right within regions, not to mention the number political assassinations
at the time. Sotelo, a right wing politician was murdered in 1936, which was
when his supporters believed they were in severe danger. The situation was spiralling
out of control and the government was losing power. A military dictatorship
seemed to be a viable option. In 1936 there was a coup involving Africa, which
broke the Spanish republican armed forces and led the way to the Spanish civil
war. It was the last straw that gave an opening for war to commence. The popular
front planned the coup as soon as they came to power in 1936. Gil robles, Mola,
and Franco all favoured the plan. The murder of the admired CEDA leader was the
spark for the coup to go ahead. General Mola was also a key figure in the
build-up to the civil war. His anti-Semitic character separated Jews from
Spaniards. Division in Spain was not rare at this time.

 

The military
was run by General Franco, who after overthrowing the civilian government in morocco,
took over the country. Franco then planned to conquer mainland Spain, rid all Spaniards
involved in left wing politics, and set up his own military government. The
left would have to truly struggle for a place in the system

 

In terms of
Social developments, Spain was bitterly divided due to the areas of the country
with strong regional or national identities such as the Catalans and the Basques;
they would demand more autonomy or even utter independence. The tensions
towards the central government meant that the country was fundamentally
unstable, as negotiation between parties was near to impossible.

 

On an
international scale, many countries became involved in the Spanish Civil war.

A non-intervention
pact was signed in 1936 including Germany the Soviet Union, France, Britain and
Italy, however there soon was an element of international involvement in the
civil war. For example, the republicans did receive some military assistance
from the Soviet Union, as well as the Nazi Germany and fascist Italy supporting
the nationalist rebels. The scale of this international situation would affect
the length, advancement and outcome of the conflict. Neutrality remained with Britain
and France, however Britain showed more neutrality towards the nationalist
rather than to the republicans. Gaining control of Madrid from the popular
front was the nationalist’s primary aim for fighting. The more international
support, the nationalists would have a greater advantage in the war, and by
1939, collapse was on the brink for the republic.

 

To conclude,
we must be able to distinguish Spain’s unique situation, however how was it
that other countries such as Germany, who had suffered similar consequences to
Spain; from the depression and a failed government, never get themselves into
the mess of a civil war? Spanish society showed characteristics of
polarization, a predominant factor linked to the causes of the civil war. for
example, strong religious beliefs and conservative values due to it being a
strict roman catholic country for a long time. However, the Spanish American
war was when the divisions became truly clear. Evidently, the morale of
the population was lowered after the loss of its colonies, and consequently
reflected Spain’s backwardness, especially when comparing it to the
progress of other European countries at that time. Spain recognised their desperate
need for a regeneration. Yet, it was impossible to agree on what kind of change
was needed. There was a bitter presence of Division, which would divide the Spanish
nation even more.

 

 

Given the
economic disparities, highly fragmented society, and the anciently entrenched Right,
involving even the peasants desiring a war for change, it seems the civil war
was bound to happen. We can notably say that the failure of the Spanish
democracy is a paramount cause of the Civil war in Spain. Denial and refusal to
compromise between parties meant that no government was able to bring the Spanish
population together. There was no respect for democratic laws. Regional and
central government tension meant that Spain was profoundly unstable due to lack
of not being able to compromise. Regions such as Catalonia and the Basque
country who demand autonomy or sometimes even independence altogether can also cause
strong national identities

 

On one hand,
maybe If the socialists won, you’d have had a leftist anti-fascist government
in power and they would have supported France against Germany. As a result,
Hitler probably would have put them on his enemies list and invaded Spain after
France in 1940. However, in a speech made be president Manuel Azaña in the
Valencia city hall in 1937, he said “We are waging war because it is being
waged on us”.

 

According to
Azaña, the backwardness in Spain can be explained by the catholic church. There
were also complaints that Azaña didn’t do enough to stop the burning of
churches in 1931.

 

The republic
was indeed forced to fight in a war that it did not start and they knew
practically nothing about. It was clear a confrontation would arise between the
left and the right as well as between the regions. The catalyst for an all-out
war could have been when the regular Spanish units arrived from morocco onto
mainland Spain. The result was to ‘leave half-a-million people dead.’

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I'm Erica!

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